The Royals' 7-1 loss to the Giants brought forth the sobering reminder that teams that have won Game 1 have taken 10 of the last 11 World Series (2009 being the exception) and 22 of the last 26 dating back to 1987. And all that's standing between the Giants building a 2-0 lead in games — something that hasn't been surmounted by a team dropping the first two at home since 1986 — is the Royals’ 23-year-old rookie fireballer: Yordano Ventura.
Starts from rookies in the World Series may not seem rare, given that just last year, Cardinals phenom Michael Wacha — who was coming off NLCS MVP honors — made a pair of them. Wacha kept the Red Sox at bay in Game 2 to even the series before finally running out of gas in the decisive Game 6. Even counting those, rookies have accounted for just 16 of 206 World Series starts (7.8 percent) during the Wild Card era (1995 onward, including this year) and 35 of 502 (7.0 percent) during the Division era (1969 onward) — roughly one between the two sides for a series that goes the full seven.
By and large, they have not been stellar, with said rookies averaging just 5 2/3 innings per start, compiling a 4.30 ERA and issuing 4.6 walks per nine over the longer period. Eleven of those 35 starts didn't even last five innings. Given that James Shields made it through just three in Game 1, the Royals need Ventura to muster a strong start.
What follows here is a look at nine of the biggest World Series starts by rookies in Division era. They may not have been the absolute best by certain criteria such as Game Score, but they were all memorable and pivotal. They're ordered chronologically.
The first of three straight pennant winners under Earl Weaver — and just three years removed from a World Series sweep of the Dodgers with largely the same cast — the 1969 Orioles won 109 games, the highest total in either league between the 1961 and 1998 Yankees. They were heavily favored over the upstart Mets, whose 100 wins were overshadowed by the fact that it was the franchise's first winning season in its eight-year existence. What the Mets did have going for them was stellar young pitching in the form of Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, behind whom they had split the first two games in Baltimore.
Facing future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in Game 3, the 22-year-old Gentry (13-12 with a 3.43 ERA during the regular season) shut out the mighty O's for 6 2/3 innings on three hits, working around five walks and driving in a pair of runs with a second-inning double to boot. A 22-year-old Nolan Ryan came out of the bullpen to go the rest of the way, securing a 5-0 victory. The Mets would win the next two games as well, completing their miracle.
1978 Game 5: Jim Beattie, Yankees vs. Dodgers
The series was tied 2-2 — with the Dodgers winning the first two in L.A. and the Yankees drawing even in the Bronx — when manager Bob Lemon turned to the 23-year-old Beattie, who had infamously been sent to the minors at midseason after owner George Steinbrenner declared that he looked "scared stiff" during a start.
The Boss couldn't have been too happy when Beattie fell behind 2-0 in the first three innings, but the Yankees piled on seven runs in the third and fourth against Dodgers starter Burt Hooton and company. Beattie went the distance, allowing nine hits and four walks but just two runs in a 12-2 win; the Yankees would clinch their second straight title when the series shifted back to L.A. for Game 6.
1981 Game 3: Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers vs. Yankees
The Yankees had beaten the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978, and after taking the first two games of the 1981 series in the Bronx, this one looked to be more of the same. In their way, however, stood 20-year-old southpaw Fernando Valenzuela, a phenom who had shocked the baseball world with his early-season run of dominance, going 8-0 with an 0.50 ERA and five shutouts in his first eight starts; he would eventually win not only NL Rookie of the Year honors, but also the Cy Young.
Valenzuela wasn't sharp or dominant on this particular night, but he gutted out a 147-pitch complete game, allowing nine hits and seven walks but just four runs in a 5-4 win. Given that lift, the Dodgers took the next three games as well, securing their first championship since 1965.
With wins in Games 4 and 5, the "Harvey's Wallbangers" Brewers had taken a 3-2 series lead over the Cardinals, and the Game 6 matchup back in St. Louis certainly favored the Brew Crew: future Hall of Famer Don Sutton versus Stuper. The 25-year-old rookie had gone 9-7 with a 3.36 ERA during the regular season but had been chased after allowing four runs over four innings in Game 2 opposite Sutton. In this one, Stuper was brilliant, spinning a four-hit complete game, while the Cardinals piled seven runs on Sutton and six on the Milwaukee bullpen to win 13-1, thus forcing a Game 7, which they won as well.
Though he'd made a few starts for the O's in each of the previous three seasons, the 25-year old Boddicker was still officially a rookie in 1983, when he went 16-8 with a 2.77 ERA and an AL-high five shutouts. He added another in the ALCS versus the White Sox — a five-hit, 14-strikeout whitewashing that earned him series MVP honors while tying the postseason record for strikeouts by an AL pitcher. Matched up against rookie Charles Hudson — an anomaly on the "Wheeze Kids" Phillies team that featured a trio of over-40 ex-Reds in Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, and a lineup with just one player under 30 — Boddicker was in a near-must-win situation, given that the O's had dropped the series opener at home.
After working a perfect three innings, Boddicker allowed the game's first run in the fourth (unearned, at that), but the Orioles scored three in the fifth, the last on his own sacrifice fly. He wound up going the distance, allowing just three hits without a walk. That was the first of four straight wins that gave Baltimore its first title since 1966; it remains the last World Series complete game by a rookie.
The seesaw 1997 series featured no fewer than five starts by rookies, the most since 1912 — two by Florida's Livan Hernandez and another by Tony Saunders, plus a pair by Wright, the baby of the bunch at 21 years old. After delivering a quality start in Game 4 (six innings, three runs) opposite Saunders, Wright (who had gone 8-3 with a 4.38 ERA in the regular season) got the Game 7 call on three days' rest.
Manager Mike Hargrove couldn't have asked for much more than Wright delivered; though he walked five, he was scoreless through the first six innings before serving up a solo homer to Bobby Bonilla to lead off the seventh. That was just the second hit he allowed. He departed leading 2-1, having thrown 108 pitches over 6 1/3 innings. Alas, Jose Mesa blew the save in the ninth inning, and the upstart Marlins rallied for the series-winning run in the 11th, depriving the powerhouse Indians of what would have been their first title since 1948.
After providing the Angels a midseason boost — going 9-4 with a 3.66 ERA (121 ERA+) in 18 starts and then throwing 10 shutout innings in the first two rounds of the playoffs — Lackey made a pair of World Series appearances, one in middle relief in Game 2 and then a wobbly five-inning start in Game 4, which also marked his 24th birthday. Down 3-2 in the series and 5-0 going into the bottom of the seventh in Game 6, the Angels rallied for three runs and added three more in the eighth thanks in part to Barry Bonds' error, thus forcing Game 7.
Manager Mike Scioscia called upon Lackey on three days' rest, and he delivered five innings of one-run ball as his teammates piled up four runs on Livan Hernandez. The Angels' dominant bullpen of Brendan Donnelly, Francisco Rodriguez and Troy Percival took the baton the rest of the way, securing the franchise's only world championship to date.
The 24-year-old Reyes didn't sparkle during his rookie season, going just 5-8 with a 5.06 ERA in 17 starts, and he had made just one appearance over the previous 19 days, a four-inning start against the Mets in Game 4 of what proved to be a seven-game NLCS. Rather than turn to Jeff Weaver on three days' rest or start Jason Marquis, who had been left off the NLCS roster, manager Tony La Russa tabbed Reyes opposite a more heralded rookie, Justin Verlander — in Detroit, no less.
The gambit paid off, as Reyes held the Tigers to two runs over eight strong innings while the Cardinals pummeled Verlander for seven runs. Though they dropped the second game of the series, the split on the road gave the Redbirds the leg up in the series. They took three straight back in St. Louis, giving them their first title since 1982.
Well, here's a familiar name. Joining a rotation that already featured two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum as well as Matt Cain, the 21-year-old Bumgarner went 7-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 starts for the Giants during the regular season. He overcame an abbreviated start in Game 4 of the LCS against the Phillies with two key innings of scoreless middle relief in Game 6, then waited his turn behind Lincecum, Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, who took the first two of those three.
Bumgarner kept the Rangers from evening the series with a stellar outing: eight shutout innings on just three hits and two walks, with six strikeouts. His 80 Game Score is the highest of any rookie in the World Series since Boddicker. The Giants completed their series win the next day, giving them their first championship since 1954.